James Blunt goes to war with his mentor over royalties

Millions are at stake as payments to singer suspended in dispute over who wrote the songs on his best-selling album
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The Independent Culture

His life has been beautiful - until now. With millions of pounds rolling in, a pair of Brit awards to his credit and the satisfaction of cracking the US market, James Blunt's star has been on a seemingly endless rise.

But yesterday it emerged it could be payback time for the singer, known for his dreamy ballads. Royalties on six songs from his debut album Back to Bedlam have been frozen in a row about who wrote what, as his early mentor claimed he had been "betrayed" by the singer.

Lukas Burton, a record producer and songwriter who says he groomed the former army officer for stardom, is claiming credit for several of the tracks that have made Blunt one of the world's biggest stars.

Blunt sold 2.3 million copies of Back to Bedlam last year, making him the biggest selling artist in the UK, and six million copies worldwide. His syrupy signature tune "You're Beautiful" made him the first UK artist to top the US charts for nine years when it went to number one earlier this month.

But Burton now wants his contribution to Blunt's success recognised financially. The Performing Rights Society confirmed yesterday that it has suspended payments on a number of the songs from Back to Bedlam while the claims over the disputed tracks are probed.

A spokeswoman for Blunt hit back last night, saying: "Traditionally, when a record is this massive, everyone wants to claim credit for its success. This is no different."

Burton has now posted early versions of the songs on a website to back his assertion that he was involved in the songs at an early stage. The 35-year-old producer was introduced to the singer by Blunt's then girlfriend Dixie Chassay in 2001, and they soon began working together. It was through Ms Chassay's family connection with the actress Carrie Fisher that Blunt later moved to Los Angeles for several months to work on his debut album and forged a strong bond with the Star Wars actress.

Burton said: "His stuff was crude, occasionally laughably direct, and betrayed his relative lack of musicianship or discernible influence." However, the two hit it off and began working together, developing songs and arrangements in LA, where Burton lived.

They completed a number of tracks before Blunt returned to the UK and, after a few weeks of regular communication by phone and email, Burton said the relationship soon began to cool. Blunt eventually told him that he had got a new manager who had advised him to sever ties with his early mentor.

Burton called it "an outright betrayal, a huge waste of my time, resources and energy".

"It wasn't so much that I was angry, just completely gutted," the producer said. He also claimed he had been assured that the songs they had worked on would not appear on any future record. "It turns out that James wasn't quite as good as his 'Queen and country' word, and three of his songs we worked on closely together are in there among the 10 nuggets," he said.

Blunt, 28, has had a period of phenomenal success over the past year after "You're Beautiful" began to pick up airplay and his album sales went through the roof. He had a slow start with just 482 copies of Back to Bedlam being sold during its first week on sale at the end of 2004.

For five weeks in the summer of 2005 he simultaneously topped the UK singles and album charts with "You're Beautiful" and Back to Bedlam, although his success has not been without criticism. Back to Bedlam was named worst album of the year by NME earlier this month.

Traditionally the music industry has been littered with rows about songwriting credits, leading to the old adage: "Where there's a hit, there's a writ." John Lennon, George Harrison and Led Zeppelin are among the artists who ended up in legal wrangles over songwriting disputes.

Last year lawyers for Pete Doherty and Carl Barat had to thrash out their input into each track on their band's second album after the Libertines split. In 2002 Robbie Williams was judged to have copied a lyric by Woody Guthrie for his song "Jesus in a Camper Van" and was ordered to hand over a quarter of the income from that track.

Last night Blunt was due to perform at Boston's Orpheum to thousands of fans he has picked up as his career has taken off in the US, unlike many Brits before him such as Oasis and Robbie Williams.

Burton said he always had faith that Blunt would find success. "James is exactly as successful as I knew he would be, not that it does me, my bank balance or my family much good to say it."